Tourism in Israel

I am always looking for places to take visitors, especially those that have been here many times. Then I am always amazed to find that they haven’t been to some of the most obvious places.  Some of my favorite tourist sites are:

  • Caesarea – wonderful Roman and Crusader ruins, excellent video presentation and a nice place to eat lunch by the shore
  • Appolonia – also formerly a Roman port near Herzliya, with extensive Crusader castle remains
  • Tzippori – excellently preserved Roman houses and mosaics, in Galilee near Nazareth
  • Beit Shean – the best preserved Roman city in Israel, quite amazing
  • Haifa – the view of the Bahai gardens and the city from the Carmel is spectacular
  • Tiberias – a lovely city and the view from Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) at night is unbeatable, especially on a dinner cruise
  • Masada – take the cable car and spend time wandering around the historic site
  • Jerusalem – so many places to see in Jerusalem, especially the Old City, the City of David excavations, the underground passages at the Western Wall, and much more
  • Akko – don’t miss the underground Crusader city that was buried by the Muslims
  • Tel Aviv – Neve Tzedek, the old train station, Jaffa and the restored Sarona area
  • Netanya – the cliff-top walk with its amazing wooden constructions
  • Beersheva – Tel Beersheva, the Negev Brigade memorial and the Air Force museum
  • Mitzpe Ramon – view the incredible Ramon Crater, visit the museum, and then descend into it
  • Eilat – sun and fun on the beach

WIth all these wonderful places to visit (and many more) no wonder April broke a record for visitors to Israel with 350,000 in one month and this year 2017 will likely be the largest number ever.   Compare this to nearby Syria.  Would you rather be an Israeli or an Arab.  Tourism is always better than terrorism.

A Loose Cannon?

Is Pres. Trump a loose cannon on the ship of state?  Is he shooting off his mouth to impress foreign visitors, or is he carefully releasing selected nuggets of secret information in order to improve the situation of the USA? At this point no-one knows, but the media surely is not giving in to any doubt.  Whereas they largely ignored Hillary Clinton’s criminal use of a private server when Secty. of State of the USA, they cannot give the current President of the USA any slack.  He has been tried and found guilty before the evidence is in.  As the Jerusalem Post editorial called it “A tempest in a teapot.”

That doesn’t mean that he didn’t do something that may have been wrong or at least stupid, but the feeding frenzy of the press, lead in this case by the vaunted NYT, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  If the Jordanians or the Israelis gave the US the highest security information from a source in IS that they were planning to use laptops to blow up planes, certainly they have the right to be pissed.  But, the President is right, he can and is able to use any specific piece of information in discreet disclosure in order to influence foreign governments.  In this case he apparently wanted to bring the Russians more into an alliance against the IS.  Not a bad idea.  Certainly not as bad as using a non-secure computer system for many months, allowing all sorts of secret to be hacked.

But, what is perhaps worse is that someone in the Administration leaked this supposed information from a completely confidential meeting to the NYT and other sources in order to embarrass and undermine Trump. This is getting dangerous. both Trump’s gaffes and these leaks must be stopped.  How?


Peace in our time

The headline in The Jerusalem Post one morning last week was surprising “Abbas has decided to sign peace deal with Israel.”  That probably means trouble for Israel, for the following reasons: 1. Abbas cannot deliver on any deals he signs, he’s too old and will be replaced soon and has very little support and control over the PA, and none of course over Gaza; 2. The Arabs don’t know the meaning of “compromise,” his deal will be the usual Arab formula, “Israel must accept…”, when they know Israel cannot accept their dictates; 3. This deal is probably designed to placate Trump, who wants any deal at any price, and therefore will mean Israel will once again be under pressure to accept a less than acceptable deal; 4. This is only a rumor, put out by Abbas’ minions to confuse the issue. So as a perennial cynic whenever I see a headline like that I automatically discount it.

But, it is not impossible that peace could break out one day, but I don’t expect it anytime soon.  Meanwhile Trump is preparing for his tri-religion trip, first Islam in Saudi Arabia, second Judaism in Israel and third Christianity in Rome.  Novel idea, no previous President has ever done such a trip before.  In Israel next week, after meeting with the Sunni Arab leadership in Saudi Arabia, he will no doubt be primed to tell Bibi Netanyahu what Israel must do to satisfy the Arabs and give him the deal he wants.  Actually it should be the other way around, both Islam and Christianity are derived from Judaism, so Israel should be the first stop.  Never mind!

But, in Israel Trump is supposed to be giving his speech at Masada, a very symbolic place for Jews, As it was the last holdout in the war by the Romans that conquered Judea and led to the dispersal of the Jews.  It will be very interesting to see what Trump will say there.  There are reports that he has decided not to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, if so that will be very disappointing to his supporters here, and will result in a re-evaluation of Israeli/Jewish support for Trump.  It would also be another campaign promise that he will not have kept.  But, let’s not prejudge the event.

Firing Comey

Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey is like an episode from his TV show, the Apprentice. Trump disliked Comey because he publicly presented the evidence against Hillary Clinton over her e-mails and then unexpectedly concluded that there was no case to answer.  Then he liked him because he re-opened the case against Hillary and announced it only 11 days before the election.  Then he disliked him again because he approved the investigation of Trump’s supposed Russian links before the election (for which there is not a shred of evidence).

The fact that he did not fire Comey as soon as he entered office was a surprise to many, so why did he do it now?  That, as they say, is a mystery.  It may be because he was informed (by whom?) that the FBI investigation of his (Trump’s) links to the Russians has advanced to the point of a potential indictment.  Or not?  But at this point he decided in another of his unexpected and untimely acts to get rid of Comey, finally, before it was too late. After all, everyone serves at the pleasure of the President, so he has the right to fire anyone as he sees fit.  Even if it is unseemly for him to do so.

But, all the side stories (Comey was not doing his job) and the excuses (Comey should not have for announced the outcome of the investigation of Clinton, the Atty. Gen. was responsible) and so on, make no difference, the fact is that Pres. Trump could fire Comey any time he liked and he did.  All the rest as they say is hearsay.


Dear friends:

My sister-in-law Barbara and her partner Brian are visiting now from the UK and I haven’t been able to find time to catch up with my usual schedule of writing blogs posts. This week and next week I will be busy going on trips with them.

Be in touch soon.



Genealogy from DNA Analysis

For many years I have believed, based on stories I was told from an early age, that my grandparents on my mother’s side were Dutch Sefardi Jews.  They were definitely Dutch, my grandfather Joel Kops went from Holland to England in the early 20th century and every evening he listened to the news from Hilversum in Dutch.  They were very assimilated, with essentially no Jewish practices, but they were definitely Jews (all of my grandfather’s family remaining in Holland – 51 people – were murdered by the Nazis).

In order to find out if the story of my Sefardi origin was true I had a genealogist trace my family back 4 generations, but all the surnames she uncovered were Ashkenazi names.   I also discovered that although ca. 5,000 Sefardi Jews moved to Holland from Spain after the expulsion of 1492 (Holland had been a Spanish colony and was very anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic), also soon after another 5,000 Ashkenazi Jews also moved to Holland.  So it was a toss-up.  Then I decided to do the acid test, a DNA test.

Without going into the details, one can analyze the sequence of bases in the DNA taken from almost any cells in the body (usually the oral mucosa), and compare the analysis to many others from different ethnic groups.  They can analyze the Y-chromosome to trace the patrilineal descent and the mitochondrial (mt)-DNA to trace the matrilineal descent, as well as the total DNA (genome) content.  The company called Family Tree DNA (see ) has built up a large data base of such characteristic ethnic DNA sequences, particularly with a large Jewish database, and by statistical comparison they can tell you your individual ethnic background.  The tests cost several hundred dollars.

My results were that I am 89% Ashkenazi Jewish and only 6% Sefardi, with 3% West Middle East and 2% south-east Europe (Italy-Greece).  Given that my father’s family were Ashkenazi Jews from the Ukraine, assuming they had no Sefardi origins, this means that my Sefardi origin on my mother’s side was ca. 12%, certainly less than the 50% that I was expecting.  So the story of my Sefardi origins was perhaps somewhat exaggerated, but nevertheless is real.


The Conversion Crisis in Israel

Rabbi Seth Farber is a Modern Orthodox Rabbi who graduated from NYU, was ordained at the Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University and obtained  a PhD from Hebrew University, Jerusalem, in 1991.   He founded ITIM (The Right to Live Jewish) in 2002 to oppose the alienation of many Israeli Jews from their religious traditions (see ).  Their interactions with the religious establishment are often accompanied by negative experiences and alienation.   He spoke at Netanya AACI on “The Conversion Crisis in Israel.”

There is a complication in Israeli Jewish life that causes serious problems.  Many immigrants to Israel, especially from the former Soviet Union (FSU) are Jewish on their father’s side, and the Israeli Law of Return requires only one grandparent to be authentically Jewish.  But, Jewish religious law requires matrilineal descent, i.e. the mother must be Jewish.  So there are many FSU immigrants who became Israeli citizens, and fought in the IDF, but who are not considered halachically Jewish by the Rabbinate, and hence by the State.  They can risk their life for the country, but they cannot be accepted as Jewish by the country, and consequently they cannot marry a Jewish woman or participate in many civil activities.  This situation affects ca. 364,000 individuals, ca. 5.8% of the Israeli population, not an inconsiderable number.

Of course, these “half-Jewish non-Jews ” can convert, but often there are problems put in their way.  It is as if the Rabbinate don’t want them to become halachically Jewish.  Under Jewish religious law (halacha) it is forbidden to treat a convert any differently than a born Jew (with matrilineal descent).  So for example, the IDF established a conversion program that converts ca. 800 soldiers a year.  But, although this program is under the religious authority of the Rabbinate, in many cases Rabbis have refused to accept the conversion of soldiers as legitimate, and sometimes require them to take more courses before getting married to a halachic Jew.

Then there are the problems faced by Israeli Jews who go abroad and marry someone who is not Jewish.  If they return to Israel and the spouse wishes to convert, the Rabbinate puts all sorts of hurdles in their way, sometimes making it almost impossible.  It used to be that they had to convert only with an Orthodox Rabbi in their locality, but after ITIM brought a case to the Supreme Court this limitation was overthrown and now they can choose a Rabbi anywhere in Israel, which makes the situation much easier.  Every year there are about 500 such cases in Israel.  There are also several hundred of cases per year of individuals converting with a Conservative or Reform Rabbi in Israel, although these conversions are not recognized by the Orthodox Rabbinate.

There are also many cases of individuals who have converted abroad and who come to Israel expecting to be accepted as Jewish by the Rabbinate and the State, and who find their certificates of conversion, even by a recognized Orthodox Rabbi, are not recognized in Israel.  This is in many cases unacceptable and is often due to incompetence or desire to receive bribes by the officials of the Rabbinate.  However, often people who are sincere convert sand who have lived as Jews for many years find that when they come to Israel, they are not only not accepted as Jews, but can even be deported because their visas are for only a short stay.  ITIM takes their cases which very often end up in court.

I raised the issue of the Bnei Anousim (descendants of forced Sefardi converts to Christianity) who sometimes can establish their matrilineal descent through documentation, but usually have a very hard time convincing the Rabbinate.  There are hundreds if not thousands of such people a year, and very often they are regarded as unwelcome by the Rabbinate and the State.  It should be pointed out that the concept of Orthodoxy in Judaism is only ca. 200 years old and stems from Germany, and in order to retain strict adherence to halacha many thousands of people who wish to rejoin the Jewish people are being denied their sincere wish.  Can Israel afford to continue in this way?  ITIM seeks to help these people and establish more accepting civil regulations.